Saturday, January 30, 2010
Angola: Day 10
Tonight we cried a little.
Ricardo and I, we both miss our families. And this is what we talked about at the end of a long day. But we'll get to that later.
Ricardo picked me up in the morning and drove me out to the the fancy hotel at Talatona, where I was able to get a few good interviews with "the important people" of this big event. At this point in the trip, I have one friend who has been with me from start to finsh, Ricardo, so it feels awkward to have him drop me off in the front of the fancy hotel and tell me he will wait for me. But this is what we do, even though I'd prefer for him to come into the lobby and hang out with me. He says he cannot.
Thankfully, it was not long before we were back on the road to downtown Luanda, blaring the same music and watching the same busy scenes. The reason I was happy that I was able to get my work done promptly was because Ricardo had mentioned to me earlier in the day that he'd been asked to play in a 5 v. 5 game with some of his friends. "But only if there is no work for Mr. Jeff," he said.
I was, in fact, done with my work so early that I asked Ricardo if he could take me by his apartment, because I knew there would be pickup games going on in the nearby "court." I figured I'd end this trip the way I began it, with the story of "the ball."
Maybe it's naive, but the people of Africa that I have spoken to believe the ball brings people together, that the ball solves problems, and the ball can be the answer to so many issues these people face on a day-to-day basis. So, I needed to see the ball in action. It was just pickup game on a sheet of asphalt. A game amongst boys of limited skill, but indeed, the ball had done the job of unifying a neighborhood. If only for a while. "This is most days," Ricardo said. "There's always a game."
I looked at my watch and asked Ricardo if he could now take me back to my hotel. "I have work I can do," I said. "Just give me a call after your game."
So Ricardo dropped me off at the Roux and I spent the afternoon transcribing tapes and watching Premier League games (and my nephew's game on the internet) and thinking a little bit about tomorrow's Cup of Nations final between Egypt and Ghana. And around 6:30, my phone rang and it was Ricardo. "Do you want to eat?" I asked him.
"No, Mr. Jeff," he said. "I have already ated" (I hate to show Ricardo's grammatical mistake, and it's not meant to be disparaging, but I found it endearing. He had gone home and eaten something after his game.) When he picked me up, Ricardo was limping. "I got kicked hard during the game," he said. "It hurts very bad."
Our normal drill went on. Ricardo opened the truck door for me, made sure my door was locked, and drove me to my rice and beans place, Sindicato. I loaded up my plate, asked Ricardo if he was hungry. "No, Mr. Jeff," he said. I gave him the look that said, "are you sure?" He finally relented and filled himself a bowl of rice and beans.
And then, the moment of this journey that I will not forget. I ordered a beer, a Cuca, of course, and Ricardo ordered a water. When he asked me if I wanted a second, I said, "Only if you will have one with me."
And Ricardo said, "I do not think I can do this, Mr. Jeff."
"I think you can..."
When the waitress returned, she had two mugs of beer. We toasted our friendship and our families. "I do this, Mr. Jeff, because this is the last night we will eat together," Ricardo said."
"That's right, Mr. Ricardo," I said, bringing out a huge smile.
And we drank our beers together, talked soccer as the highlights of the African Cup of Nations were being shown on the restaurant's big screen. Ricardo and I will both pull for Ghana tomorrow, as we agree Egypt seems arrogant. We agreed that Lionel Messi is the best player in the world right now, better than Cristiano Ronaldo, and we differed on who is the greatest player of all-time (one said Pele, the other said Maradona). And we talked about our wives and kids, and how we miss them...as Ricardo says, "A loat (rhymes with boat).
When he dropped me off, Ricardo and I discussed tomorrow's agenda. "I will watch the news before I go to sleep, Mr. Jeff," Ricardo said. "I need to know how early we must leave." And then he paused. "I want to say I'm sorry, because I should not have had that beer while I was working, Mr. Jeff..."
And I couldn't believe what I was hearing. "No, no, no, Ricardo," I said. "I am so glad we were able to have a beer together, my friend, don't be sorry."
As I said the final word, I could feel tears welling in my eyes. And Ricardo had the same look. We shook hands and gave each other a brief "bro hug double-back-tap."
I'm ready for this trip to be over, but I'm going to miss this guy.